Unidentified artist
John Freake, about 1671 and 1674

Technical Notes
The painting's primary support is a plain, slightly open-weave canvas with between fifteen and sixteen threads per centimeter vertically and between eleven and twelve threads per centimeter horizontally; the threads are irregular. Cusping is visible along all four edges of the canvas. The canvas was adhered with glue to another fabric support, and the tacking edges are no longer extant. There are minor punctures and tears throughout the canvas, including a large branched tear in the bottom center and a tear above the sitter's head.

The pinkish brick-red ground layer appears to have been applied by the artist. It is moderately thick and somewhat uneven. In general, the paint was thinly applied except in the whites and the light colors, where it is more thickly built up. The painting has an extensive network of aging and drying cracks throughout. The darks and midtones have darkened considerably, heightening the contrast between the lighter passages and the rest of the painting.

Pentimenti are visible on and near the face and hair, on the jacket near the hands and gloves, and on the contour of the shoulders and collar. At some time after the original portrait sitting, the artist made significant changes to the placement of the hands—both hands originally clutched a single glove. Changes to the hair, face, and collar are thought to have been made at the same time that the hands were repainted.

In the past, wax-resin consolidant was used to stabilize cracking and cupping. Abrasions and scattered losses occur throughout the painting, but there are no major losses. The current surface coating probably consists of a synthetic varnish that was applied over an older coating of PVA. The surface is somewhat matte but not significantly discolored.

Frame Notes
John Freake is currently in a simple, black painted frame, which was made in preparation for the exhibition New England Begins (1982) to resemble the frames on Margaret Gibbs (1670, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and Henry Gibbs (1670, private collection). Those portraits are by the same artist who painted John Freake, and their pine frames are thought to be original.1

The frame that was removed is ornately carved with fruit, vines, flowers, and leaves. Though the surface is badly worn, it appears that it was originally silver gilt and perhaps painted in the low areas of relief around the fruit; the silver gilding is considerably tarnished. The frame is made of eastern white pine, a species of wood that is native to North America but not Europe.2 Although wood was exported to Europe from New England in the seventeenth century, the wood type suggests that the frames could have been made in Boston.

Responding to photographs of the carved Freake frame, one scholar of English frames, Jacob Simon, writes, "The pattern seems to me to be late 17th century in form but it is of course possible that the frame is a late 19th century copy."3 If the carved frame is original to John Freake, it would be unusual for a seventeenth-century American painting. Jonathan Fairbanks, the organizer of the 1982 exhibition states that "It was not the general practice in seventeenth century New England to frame portraits in gilded or gold leafed frames. That was a custom current in the eighteenth rather than the seventeenth centuries."4

The Freake portraits were apparently in gilt frames by the end of the eighteenth century, when they were recorded in a descendant's probate inventory as "Two large fraimed Gilt [pictures] with likeness's on them" valued at ten and fifteen dollars. Presumably the larger amount was given to the double portrait.5 Further study is required to determine whether the painting should remain in its current reproduction frame or be placed back into the ornate, carved, silver-gilt one.

1. Fairbanks, 1982, III, 459.

2. Wood identification is based on a scientific analysis of the cell structure by dendrologist R. Bruce Hoadley, January 5, 2000.

3. Jacob Simon, National Portrait Gallery, London, to Laura K. Mills, August 25, 1999, object files, Worcester Art Museum. The frames are similar to the contemporary example that is illustrated in Simon, 1996, 211, fig. 184.

4. Jonathan L. Fairbanks, Katharine L. Weems Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to Anne Popadic, curatorial intern, Worcester Art Museum, April 23, 1999, object files, Worcester Art Museum.

5. Probate inventory for the estate of Josiah Wolcott, filed April 20, 1797, Worcester County Probate.